Army Shooting Suspect Wants Plea Change

Abdulhakim Muhammad, 23, of Little Rock, waits in a Little Rock, Ark., courtroom Tuesday, June 2, 2009, where he was charged in the Monday death of a military recruiter outside the Army-Navy Career Center in a west Little Rock shopping center. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston) AP Photo/Danny Johnston

The man accused of killing one soldier and wounding another outside an Arkansas military recruiting center has asked a judge to change his plea to guilty, claiming ties to al-Qaida.

Abdulhakim Muhammad's attorney, Claiborne Ferguson, said Thursday night that his client sent a letter earlier this month to the judge in his case asking to change his plea to capital murder and attempted capital murder charges.

Ferguson said he hadn't discussed the request with his client before the letter was sent. Under Arkansas law prosecutors would have to agree and waive the death penalty before the judge could consider it, Ferguson said.

Pvt. William Long of Conway was killed in the June 1 attack in Little Rock, and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded.

Muhammad has called the shootings justified retaliation for U.S. military action in the Middle East. He told The Associated Press in a telephone interview last year that he doesn't believe he's guilty.

The New York Times, which first reported the letter on its Web site Thursday, said Muhammad described himself in the letter as a soldier in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and called the shooting "a Jihadi Attack." The group has claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound American airliner.

"I wasn't insane or post traumatic, nor was I forced to do this act," Muhammad claimed in the handwritten letter, the newspaper reported.

Ferguson said he didn't know how seriously to take Muhammad's claims of terror ties and expressed frustration with his client sending the letter without consulting him beforehand.

"He's said lots of things. None of them seem to be real consistent with each other," Ferguson said. "I'm a little irritated with it."

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Thursday night, but prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty in the case.

Muhammad was arrested about eight miles from the recruiting center, on Interstate 630, shortly after the shootings. Police said they recovered Molotov cocktails, three guns and ammunition from his pickup truck. An internal law enforcement memo said

Muhammad may have considered other targets, including military sites and Jewish organizations in the Southeast.

A law enforcement official told the AP in June that Muhammad had been under investigation by an FBI-led terrorism task force since he returned to the United States from Yemen in 2008. Muhammad, who was born Carlos Bledsoe, had moved to Little Rock to work in his father's Memphis-based tour bus company as it branched out.
Muhammad, who has called the AP twice since his arrest, has claimed responsibility for the shooting and said it was justified because of what he called American-directed hostilities toward the Muslim world.

Last week, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright Jr. ordered the state public defenders commission to pay some of the legal bills for Muhammad's trial, which is scheduled to begin in June. Ferguson was hired by Muhammad's family to represent him.



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